Interview: Mike Lynch on Autonomy at HP

Mike Lynch co-founded Autonomy and sold it to HP for £7bn. Now he is HP's executive vice-president, information management.

Given that Leo Apotheker was kicked out as CEO of HP shortly after announcing plans that included spending £7.1 billion on acquiring Autonomy, founder Mike Lynch is surprisingly upbeat.

Prior to the HP acquisition, Autonomy was the UK's biggest independent software company. Mike Lynch, who co-founded the FTSE 100 company, was considered the Bill Gates of Europe. His new role is as executive vice-president of information management at HP. Lynch heads up the UK division of HP which, along with Autonomy, includes data analytics firm Vertica, which HP acquired in February 2011.

Speaking on the change at the top with new boss, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, Lynch does not feel Apotheker’s departure put Autonomy at a disadvantage. He says: “I never worked with Leo. Meg and I have been at HP the same amount of time. Meg and [HP chairman] Ray Lane were on the board that voted for the Autonomy deal.”

According to Lynch, Autonomy has been kept quite autonomous in HP and operates in similar way to Vertica. He says: “HP had to preserve the culture. I report straight to Meg. The business opportunity is in information management.” His role at HP will involve building this business to target application areas in legal compliance, marketing, call centres, enterprise search, business process management, analytics, database archiving and database technologies.

Lynch is now unveiling the first fruits of the combined company, with the HP Autonomy Appliances and Idol 10, the latest version of Autonomy’s Intelligent Data Operating Layer (Idol) Server. The new version takes Autonomy’s heritage in unstructured data analysis with structured data from Vertica.

While traditional, relational databases are the mainstay of enterprise computing, Lynch says most information is what he calls “human information”, such as speech, images and video, that relational databases cannot understand.

Presenting in November at the Gartner ITxpo in Barcelona, Lynch had this to say: “In traditional IT, without a lot of scripting you cannot do much. But 85% of information in a company is in human-friendly form. We have to move to a world away from true and false, boolean ones and zeros, to a probabilistic model."

Up to now, Autonomy has taken the approach of tackling unstructured data, such as speech and video analysis. But under HP, Autonomy is recognising the structured world. Is Lynch changing his tune?

He responds: “Imagine you are sitting in the e-mail flow [analysing e-mail conversations], and there is an e-mail intercepted accepting free Wimbledon tickets. This message can be routed to the compliance officer.” Such analysis requires both unstructured and structured data analysis, and business process management.

“For far too long, organisations have confined structured data to relational databases and unstructured data to simplistic keyword matching technologies,” says Lynch. By combining structured and unstructured data analysis, Lynch says businesses will be able to automatically process, understand, and act on 100% of their data, in real-time. “The results will be dramatic, as businesses can develop entirely new applications that explore the richness and colour of ‘human Information’ that lives in unstructured, semi-structured, and structured forms.”

Along with Idol 10, HP is also integrating Autonomy into an HP appliance. The HP Autonomy Appliance provides Idol through HP’s converged infrastructure. While Autonomy has traditionally sold Idol to large organisations, Lynch says the appliance give small and mid-sized businesses access to Autonomy’s technologies.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, Autonomy has developed technology based on Idol that combines augmented reality with computer vision, allowing the computer to see up to 500,000 objects. In a demo in November at the Gartner ITxpo conference in Barcelona, Lynch had an assistant bring up a poster of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and film posters of Harry Potter and Despicable Me. He showed how Autonomy's technology, running on an iPad, could capture an image of the posters, understand their content and add interactivity.

“This is just the beginning. In the first phase of the internet you typed words in a box. But once you see the stuff in Barcelona, text is becoming less important."

For Lynch, what makes the technology significant is that all the processing is performed on the device. The processing power on the ARM-based iPad and other modern devices is sufficient to run computer vision applications, such as the demo Lynch gave in Barcelona. 

And while the UK has lost ownership of its most successful home-grown UK software house, Lynch believes: "When we started Autonomy there were no start-ups. Now you look at ARM and Autonomy  – so two of today’s most important movements have come out of the UK.”


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